How Is Access Control Portrayed in Film & TV?

September 20, 2020
Written Insights

This week I’m going to deviate a bit from our normal content. The more I’ve learned about the access control industry, the more intrigued I’ve become about how we often overlook the role it plays in our day-to-day. So, I wanted to take a look at a few scenes from famous movies and TV shows and examine how they each deal with locks and keys. We usually see characters on TV picking locks when breaking and entering, robbing a bank, or trying to escape. What do these scenes imply about access control? And how much has our understanding (those of us who are newer to the access control industry) been shaped by these portrayals?  

I dug around and found some great examples of movies and shows that have portrayed lockpicking scenes. Here are my favorites:

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

In this scene, Sarah Conor sets herself free by picking a lock with two paper clips. It’s almost a bit cliché at this point how often paper clips are used as a lockpicking device in the media. The likelihood of paper clips being sturdy enough to pick a lock seems unlikely. When it comes to access control, one would hope that the locks of a mental institution were a bit more sophisticated to keep patients inside. We let this detail slide in the context of the movie, however, because we are invested in the character and want her to succeed.

Now You See Me

This scene in Now You See Me, is the closest example I found of characters breaking into a multifamily building. The group of illusionists, who call themselves the Four Horsemen in the movie, are standing outside the door to an apartment wondering how they’ll find a way to get inside. Then we see Dave Franco whip out what appears to be actual lock picking tools, which is a step up more believable from what we saw in Terminator 2. The flair he uses to unlock the door is where the believability falls through, but this is an example that showcases why access control is such an important factor when it comes to choosing to live in multifamily buildings. Without visitor tracking or entrance security, it’s possible for someone with the right lockpicking tools to pick the lock of any apartment. Advanced access control systems give residents the peace of mind that this won’t happen to them.

Sherlock Holmes

In this comical example, we see Sherlock attempting to pick a lock with some unusual tools before Watson decides to just kick down the door. Upon further research thanks to the comments in the video, I learned that the tools Sherlock was using are actually bloodletting tools called fleams—very adequate for the era. However, it is unclear if they are meant to emulate lockpicking tools or if they’re a nod to Sherlock’s medical knowledge. Either way, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to carry around such tools in the context of the movie. I love this scene, though, because it raises a point about how much lock and key systems can do to keep people out. In some cases, the door is just as important.

Cobra Kai

Cobra Kai only recently hit Netflix, so I couldn’t find a clip of the scene online. However, in Season 1 Episode 7 of Netflix’s new hit show Cobra Kai, we see a different kind of lock picking. This scene shows Bobby recording the access code to the garage that his friends plan to break into. He pretends to be polishing a car but starts recording video on his phone with the front camera, catching the code being punched in just in time. I thought this was such a clever lockpicking scene, different from what we usually see. It also shows the vulnerabilities of lock codes and how we can’t control who gains access to them. Once someone gets access to a lock code there is no way for them to give it back. There is also no way of knowing who out there knows the code, which leaves us having to change the code regularly for security.

The way we see access control portrayed in the media is often surface level and void of the nuances we take into consideration when thinking about security in our living situations. It’s fun to watch fictional characters pick locks, escape dire situations, and tear down doors. However, we expect so much more from our security systems in real life. We expect that these systems will generally be able to prevent people from breaking and entering into our homes and tearing down our doors. Access control has evolved to meet our needs in this respect. But it might be a good idea to check and see if your lock and be easily picked by using two paper clips. If so, it might be time to replace it.

Do you have any favorite lockpicking scenes from popular media? I’d love to know!

Ivana Gatica graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in Fine Arts and Writing. For the past year, she has been working as a copywriter in the marketing and fintech spaces helping businesses find their unique voice. She also likes to take on freelance writing opportunities in her free time and loves to write fiction and poetry.

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